WHO IS MITCH RAPP

June 7, 2017


I have had the great opportunity to travel to several countries over my not-too-short-lifetime.  Most of that travel has been for business purposes but even though you are engaged for long periods of time you do pick up various indications relative to culture, even pop culture.  In my opinion, we here in the United States and the western world have by far the very best heroes.   Literature and certainly the entertainment professions are replete with men and women selected to “save us all”.  I’m not too sure if this is good or bad.  Maybe we are looking for that “white knight” to ride in and solve all of our problems then ride off leaving us happy and forever content.  I personally feel that white knight may be found by looking in a mirror.

At any rate, the list below is just a partial list of “heroes” we look for to write all wrongs, deliver us from alien invaders, purge our country from evil—you get the picture.

  • James Bond
  • Jason Bourne
  • John Wick
  • Neo and Morpheus
  • Katniss Everdeen
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Philip Marlowe
  • Ripley
  • Wonder Woman
  • Captain America
  • Iron Man
  • Han Solo
  • Luke Skywalker
  • Rocky Balboa
  • Harry Potter
  • The Terminator
  • Jimmy Lee Swagger
  • Jack Reacher
  • Mitch Rapp

I would like to concentrate on the last one—Mitch Rapp.  Mr. Vince Flynn created Mitch Rapp and penned the following action-packed novels with him as the main character.

  • American Assassin (Mitch Rapp #1) (2010) ​ ISBN 9781416595182
  • Kill Shot (Mitch Rapp #2) (2012) ​ ISBN 9781416595205
  • Transfer of Power (Mitch Rapp #3) (1999) ​ ISBN 0671023195
  • The Third Option (Mitch Rapp #4) (2000) ​ ISBN 0671047310
  • Separation of Power (Mitch Rapp #5) (2001) ISBN 0671047337
  • Executive Power (Mitch Rapp #6) (2002) ​ ISBN 0743453956
  • Memorial Day (Mitch Rapp #7) (2004) ​ ISBN 0743453972
  • Consent to Kill (Mitch Rapp #8) (2005) ​ ISBN 0743270363
  • Act of Treason (Mitch Rapp #9) (2006) ​ ISBN 0743270371
  • Protect and Defend (Mitch Rapp #10) (2007) ​ ISBN 9780743270410
  • Extreme Measures (Mitch Rapp #11) (2008) ​ ISBN 9781416599395
  • Pursuit of Honor (Mitch Rapp #12) (2009) ​ ISBN 978141659516
  • The Last Man (Mitch Rapp #13) (2012) ​ ISBN 9781416595212
  • The Survivor (Mitch Rapp #14) (2015) ​ ISBN 9781476783451
  • Order To Kill (Mitch Rapp #15) (2016) ​ ISBN 9781476783482
  • Enemy Of The State (Mitch Rapp #16) (2017) ​ ISBN 9781476783512
  • Term Limits (not part of Mitch Rapp series) (1997) ​ ISBN 0671023179

I have read most of Mr. Flynn’s novels involving Rapp and I can tell you he is a most interesting man.

Mitch Rapp attended Syracuse University, where he majored in international business and minored in French. He attended Syracuse on a lacrosse scholarship and became an All-American due to his amazing speed and aggressive style of play. Rapp was also offered a scholarship by the University of North Carolina, but turned that down because his high school sweetheart Maureen was attending Syracuse.  Rapp had known Maureen since he was sixteen years old.  She was tragically killed in the December 21, 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  One of thirty-five (35) Syracuse students died that day while returning from a semester overseas.

Nearly a year after Maureen’s death, Rapp was recruited into the CIA by Irene Kennedy. He began training the week after graduating from Syracuse. Only twenty-three years old at the time, Rapp did not go through the standard CIA training program at “The Farm,” outside Williamsburg, Virginia. Instead, for a year straight he was shuttled from one location to the next, sometimes spending a week, sometimes a month. The bulk of the training was handled by Stan Hurley, a former CIA operative, who taught him “how to shoot, stab, blow things up, and even kill with his bare hands.” In other words, he was schooled in firearms and marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat, and explosives. Endurance was stressed. There were long swims and even longer runs. Between all the heavy lifting, they worked on his foreign language skills. Since he had minored in French at Syracuse, within a month at the CIA he was fluent in the language. He was then taught Arabic and Persian and could passably speak Urdu and Pashto. He also spoke German and Italian. He is ambidextrous, but naturally left-handed.

Rapp then became an operative of the Orion Team, a highly secretive organization supported by the CIA but definitely outside the Agency. It is funded by money diverted from congressionally funded programs. The job of the Orion Team in a nutshell is to take the war to the terrorists. It was formed in response to the Lockerbie disaster by the then CIA director of operations Thomas Stansfield. The unit operates in secret, independent, national security apparatus and circumvents the leviathan of politics that bypasses impediments like the executive order banning assassinations. The team is headed by Rapp’s recruiter, Irene Kennedy, whose official role is as director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.

Rapp has been the Orion Team’s star operative almost from the day he started and has been honed into the most effective counterterrorism operative in America’s arsenal. He’s spent significant amounts of time in Europe, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia collecting intelligence and when the situation called for it, dealing with threats in a more final manner.

Officially, Rapp has nothing to do with the U.S. government; rather, he is referred to in the business as a private contractor. Rapp lives a life completely separate from the Agency. His cover is that of a successful entrepreneur. With the help of the CIA, he runs a small computer consulting business on the side that just happens to do a fair amount of international business, which gives him the cover to travel frequently. To keep things legitimate, Rapp often does indeed conduct business while abroad.

One of Rapp’s aliases is Mitch Kruse. In the special ops community, he is often known only by his call sign, “Iron Man” after the annual Ironman Triathlon in which he has participated on several occasions and has twice won. His only remaining family is his brother, Steven Rapp, a millionaire financial genius. Mitch and Steven grew up in McLean, Virginia.

Throughout the books, Rapp works with several special operations units including Navy SEALs and DEVGRUDelta ForceAir Force Special Operations Command, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). He also has close ties with “SEAL Demolition and Salvage Corporation”, a private military company specializing in underwater salvage such as getting rid of debris for ports and shipyards and training law enforcement divers, but whose employees also work from time to time as freelance operatives for the CIA. The company is owned and operated by Scott Coleman, former commanding officer of SEAL Team Six and friend of Rapp.

Flynn has crafted a remarkably complex character and has the ability to put that character in situations you would expect a “normal individual” to die from.  He has the uncanny ability to weave a story line that has one surprise after another.  This is truly a remarkable feat.  I love his books for this reason and one more—he is a master craftsman with words.  Truly gifted.

One caution—read “The American Assassin” first.  This book gives you the background or Rapp beginning with his days at Syracuse.  It takes you through all of the training used to produce a lethal weapon.  I strongly recommend the Mitch Rapp series for your summer reading.

RISE OF THE MACHINES

March 20, 2017


Movie making today is truly remarkable.  To me, one of the very best parts is animation created by computer graphics.  I’ve attended “B” movies just to see the graphic displays created by talented programmers.  The “Terminator” series, at least the first movie in that series, really captures the creative essence of graphic design technology.  I won’t replay the movie for you but, the “terminator” goes back in time to carry out its prime directive—Kill John Conner.  The terminator, a robotic humanoid, has decision-making capability as well as human-like mobility that allows the plot to unfold.  Artificial intelligence or AI is a fascinating technology many companies are working on today.  Let’s get a proper definition of AI as follows:

“the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”

Question:  Are Siri, Cortana, and Alexa eventually going to be more literate than humans? Anyone excited about the recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning should also be concerned about human literacy as well. That’s according to Protect Literacy , a global campaign, backed by education company Pearson, aimed at creating awareness and fighting against illiteracy.

Project Literacy, which has been raising awareness for its cause at SXSW 2017, recently released a report, “ 2027: Human vs. Machine Literacy ,” that projects machines powered by AI and voice recognition will surpass the literacy levels of one in seven American adults in the next ten (10) years. “While these systems currently have a much shallower understanding of language than people do, they can already perform tasks similar to simple text search task…exceeding the abilities of millions of people who are nonliterate,” Kate James, Project Literacy spokesperson and Chief Corporate Affairs and Global Marketing Officer at Pearson, wrote in the report. In light of this the organization is calling for “society to commit to upgrading its people at the same rate as upgrading its technology, so that by 2030 no child is born at risk of poor literacy.”  (I would invite you to re-read this statement and shudder in your boots as I did.)

While the past twenty-five (25) years have seen disappointing progress in U.S. literacy, there have been huge gains in linguistic performance by a totally different type of actor – computers. Dramatic advances in natural language processing (Hirschberg and Manning, 2015) have led to the rise of language technologies like search engines and machine translation that “read” text and produce answers or translations that are useful for people. While these systems currently have a much shallower understanding of language than people do, they can already perform tasks similar to the simple text search task above – exceeding the abilities of millions of people who are nonliterate.

According to the National National Centre for Education Statistics machine literacy has already exceeded the literacy abilities of the estimated three percent (3%) of non-literate adults in the US.

Comparing demographic data from the Global Developer Population and Demographic Study 2016 v2 and the 2015 Digest of Education Statistics finds there are more software engineers in the U.S. than school teachers, “We are focusing so much on teaching algorithms and AI to be better at language that we are forgetting that fifty percent (50%)  of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level,” Project Literacy said in a statement.  I retired from General Electric Appliances.   Each engineer was required to write, or at least the first draft, of the Use and Care Manuals for specific cooking products.  We were instructed to 1.) Use plenty of graphic examples and 2.) Write for a fifth-grade audience.  Even with that, we know from experience that many consumers never use and have no intention of reading their Use and Care Manual.  With this being the case, many of the truly cool features are never used.  They may as well buy the most basic product.

Research done by Business Insider reveals that thirty-two (32) million Americans cannot currently read a road sign. Yet at the same time there are ten (10) million self-driving cars predicted to be on the roads by 2020. (One could argue this will further eliminate the need for literacy, but that is debatable.)  If we look at literacy rates for the top ten (10) countries on our planet we see the following:

Citing research from Venture Scanner , Project Literacy found that in 2015 investment in AI technologies, including natural language processing, speech recognition, and image recognition, reached $47.2 billion. Meanwhile, data on US government spending shows that the 2017 U.S. Federal Education Budget for schools (pre-primary through secondary school) is $40.4 billion.  I’m not too sure funding for education always goes to benefit students education. In other words, throwing more money at this problem may not always provide desired results, but there is no doubt, funding for AI will only increase.

“Human literacy levels have stalled since 2000. At any time, this would be a cause for concern, when one in ten people worldwide…still cannot read a road sign, a voting form, or a medicine label,” James wrote in the report. “In popular discussion about advances in artificial intelligence, it is easy

CONCLUSION:  AI will only continue to advance and there will come a time when robotic systems will be programmed with basic decision-making skills.  To me, this is not only fascinating but more than a little scary.

THE NEXT FIVE (5) YEARS

February 15, 2017


As you well know, there are many projections relative to economies, stock market, sports teams, entertainment, politics, technology, etc.   People the world over have given their projections for what might happen in 2017.  The world of computing technology is absolutely no different.  Certain information for this post is taken from the publication “COMPUTER.org/computer” web site.  These guys are pretty good at projections and have been correct multiple times over the past two decades.  They take their information from the IEEE.

The IEEE Computer Society is the world’s leading membership organization dedicated to computer science and technology. Serving more than 60,000 members, the IEEE Computer Society is the trusted information, networking, and career-development source for a global community of technology leaders that includes researchers, educators, software engineers, IT professionals, employers, and students.  In addition to conferences and publishing, the IEEE Computer Society is a leader in professional education and training, and has forged development and provider partnerships with major institutions and corporations internationally. These rich, self-selected, and self-paced programs help companies improve the quality of their technical staff and attract top talent while reducing costs.

With these credentials, you might expect them to be on the cutting edge of computer technology and development and be ahead of the curve as far as computer technology projections.  Let’s take a look.  Some of this absolutely blows me away.

human-brain-interface

This effort first started within the medical profession and is continuing as research progresses.  It’s taken time but after more than a decade of engineering work, researchers at Brown University and a Utah company, Blackrock Microsystems, have commercialized a wireless device that can be attached to a person’s skull and transmit via radio thought commands collected from a brain implant. Blackrock says it will seek clearance for the system from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so that the mental remote control can be tested in volunteers, possibly as soon as this year.

The device was developed by a consortium, called BrainGate, which is based at Brown and was among the first to place implants in the brains of paralyzed people and show that electrical signals emitted by neurons inside the cortex could be recorded, then used to steer a wheelchair or direct a robotic arm (see “Implanting Hope”).

A major limit to these provocative experiments has been that patients can only use the prosthetic with the help of a crew of laboratory assistants. The brain signals are collected through a cable screwed into a port on their skull, then fed along wires to a bulky rack of signal processors. “Using this in the home setting is inconceivable or impractical when you are tethered to a bunch of electronics,” says Arto Nurmikko, the Brown professor of engineering who led the design and fabrication of the wireless system.

capabilities-hardware-projection

Unless you have been living in a tree house for the last twenty years you know digital security is a huge problem.  IT professionals and companies writing code will definitely continue working on how to make our digital world more secure.  That is a given.

exascale

We can forget Moor’s Law which refers to an observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965. He noticed that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention.  Moore’s law predicts that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future. Although the pace has slowed, the number of transistors per square inch has since doubled approximately every 18 months. This is used as the current definition of Moore’s law.  We are well beyond that with processing speed literally progressing at “warp six”.

non-volitile-memory

If you are an old guy like me, you can remember when computer memory costs an arm and a leg.  Take a look at the JPEG below and you get an idea as to how memory costs has decreased over the years.

hard-drive-cost-per-gbyte

As you can see, costs have dropped remarkably over the years.

photonics

texts-for-photonoics

power-conservative-multicores

text-for-power-conservative-multicores

CONCLUSION:

If you combine the above predictions with 1.) Big Data, 2.) Internet of Things (IoT), 3.) Wearable Technology, 4.) Manufacturing 4.0, 5.) Biometrics, and other fast-moving technologies you have a world in which “only the adventurous thrive”.  If you do not like change, I recommend you enroll in a monastery.  You will not survive gracefully without technology on the rampage. Just a thought.

INTELLIGENT FLEET SOLUTIONS

October 16, 2016


Ever been on an Interstate?  Ever travel those highways WITHOUT seeing one of the “big rigs”?  I don’t think so. I have a commute every day on Interstate 75 and even at 0530 hours the heavy-duty truck traffic is significant.  As I travel that route, I pass two rest stops dedicated solely for drivers needing to take a break.  They are always full; lights on, engines running. (More about that later.)

Let’s take a very quick look at transportation in the United States to get calibrated as to the scope and breadth of the transportation industry. (NOTE: The following information comes from TruckInfo.net.)

  • How big is the trucking industry?
    The trucking companies, warehouses and private sector in the U.S. employs an estimated 8.9 million people employed in trucking-related jobs; nearly 3.5 million were truck drivers. Of this figure UPS employs 60,000 workers and 9% are owner operators.  LTL shippers account for around 13.6 percent of America’s trucking sector.
  • How many trucks operate in the U.S.?
    Estimates of 15.5 million trucks operate in the U.S.  Of this figure 2 million are tractor trailers.
  • How many truckers are there?
    It is an estimated over 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S.  Of that one in nine are independent, a majority of which are owner operators. Canada has in excess of 250,000 truck drivers.
  • How many trucking companies are there in the U.S.?
    Estimates of 1.2 million companies in the U.S. Of that figure 97% operate 20 or fewer while 90% operate 6 or fewer trucks.
  • How many miles does the transportation industry transports good in a year?
    In 2006 the transportation industry logged 432.9 billion miles. Class 8 trucks accounted for 139.3 billion of those miles, up from 130.5 billion in 2005
  • What is the volume of goods transported by the trucking industry?
    The United States economy depends on trucks to deliver nearly 70 percent of all freight transported annually in the U.S., accounting for $671 billion worth of manufactured and retail goods transported by truck in the U.S. alone. Add $295 billion in truck trade with Canada and $195.6 billion in truck trade with Mexico.

As you can see, the transportation industry, moving products from point “A” to point “B” by truck, is HUGE—absolutely HUGE.    With this being the case, our country has established goals to improving gas mileage for passenger cars, light trucks and heavy-duty trucks.  These goals are dedicated to improving gas mileage but also goals to reduce emissions.  Let’s take a look.

Passenger Car and Light Truck Standards for 2017 and beyond

In 2012, NHTSA established final passenger car and light truck CAFE standards for model years 2017-2021, which the agency projects will require in model year 2021, on average, a combined fleet-wide fuel economy of 40.3-41.0 mpg. As part of the same rulemaking action, EPA issued GHG standards, which are harmonized with NHTSA’s fuel economy standards that are projected to require 163 grams/mile of carbon dioxide (CO2) in model year 2025.  EPA will reexamine the GHG standards for model years 2022-2025 and NHTSA will set new CAFE standards for those model years in the next couple of years, based on the best available information at that time.

The Big Rigs

On June 19, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced major increases for fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks. Part of President Obama’s comprehensive Climate Action Plan, Phase 2 of the Heavy-Duty National Program tightens emission standards for heavy-duty trucks and includes big rigs, delivery vehicles, dump trucks and buses.  The updated efficiency rule for trucks joins a growing list of fuel efficiency measures, including the President’s 2012 doubling of fuel efficiency standards for cars and light-duty trucks (CAFE standards), as well as expected aircraft rules, following the agency’s finding that aircraft emissions endanger human health.

While the miles per gallon (mpg) rating of cars and light duty trucks has increased over the last decade or so, the fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks has held at 5 mpg for over four decades. Conversely, the average passenger vehicle reached 24 mpg in 2010.  Under CAFE, cars and light duty trucks are set to reach 54.5 MPG by 2025. 

According to EPA, heavy-duty trucks are the fastest growing emissions segment of the U.S. transportation sector; they are currently responsible for twenty percent (20%) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while comprising just four percent (4%) of on-road vehicles.  Heavy duty trucks power the consumer economy, carrying seventy percent (70%) of all U.S. freight – weighing in at 10 billion tons of everything from food to electronics, building materials, clothes and other consumer goods.

As you can see, the goals are not only reduction in fuel usage but improvements in emissions.  There are companies and programs dedicated to meeting these goals.  The reason for this post is to indicate that people and companies are working to provide answers; solving problems; providing value-added to our environment and even our way of life. One such company is Intelligent Fleet Solutions.

The big questions is, how do we meet these goals?  The burden is up to companies manufacturing the engines and design of the cabs and trailers.  Alternate fuels are one answer; i.e. using CNG (compressed natural gas), biofuels, hydrogen, etc. but maybe not the entire answer.

One manner in which these goals may be met is reducing engine idle while trucks are at rest.  The following chart will explain the dilemma and one target for reduction in petroleum consumption.

gas-usage-at-idle

This chart shows petroleum consumption of various vehicles at idle.  Notice: diesel engine consumption can use up to 1.00 gallon per hour when idling.  Question, can we lessen this consumption?

Companies designing and manufacturing devices to contribute to this effort are being introduced helping to drive us towards meeting really tough café goals.  One such company is Intelligent Fleet Solutions. Let’s take a look.

INTELLIGENT FLEET SOLUTIONS

What if the vehicle you drive could automatically alter its performance by doing the following?

  • Governing maximum speed in Class 8 vehicles
  • Optimizing acceleration
  • Providing for a more efficient cruise

If you look carefully at the following brochure you will see a device that provides all three.  The DERIVE program is downloaded into your vehicle’s ECM (Electronic Control Module) allowing control from generic to specific.  You are in control.  The program is contained in a hand-held pendent that “jacks” into the same receptacle used to reset your check engine light.  Heavy-duty trucks may have another port for this pendent but the same process is used.  The great part—the software is quick loading and low cost.  A driver or owner has a payback considerably less one year.  My friend Amy Dobrikova is an approved reseller for DERIVE technologies. Please contact her for further information at 765-617-8614.

derive

derive-2

CONCLUSIONS:  Intelligent Fleet Solutions performs a great service in helping to preserve non-renewable fossil fuels AND lessening or eliminating harmful effluent from our environment.  “Solutions” recognizes the fact that “all hands must be on deck” to solve emission problems and conserve remaining petroleum supplies.  This company embodies the fact that America is still THE country in which technology is applied to solve problems and insure specific goals are met.  Intelligent Fleet Solutions is a great contributor to that effort.  Check them out at intelligent-fleet.com


In 1985 I was self employed, as I am now, as a consulting engineer.  That year, being my “rookie” year, was one in which I had a great deal to learn.  One painful learning experience involved theft of intellectual property—MY PROPERTY.  I suppose in hindsight it was good it happened early in my company’s history but the memories of that event remain very much etched in my psyche.

The company involved, we will call them Company “A”, manufactured microwave (MW) ovens; many hundreds of MWs each day.  Company “A” had very personnel-intensive assembly lines with many “hands-on” operations.   They recognized that automation could save them hundreds if not thousands of dollars on a daily basis.  My company developed robotic systems to automate manufacturing processes.  It seemed like a good fit.

I had called on them several times prior to receiving a telephone call one afternoon asking if I could come for another visit to discuss a project preparatory to quoting.  I scheduled an appointment two hours later in the same day. (Cash flow is a huge issue for any company and particularly a new, fledgling company.)

The project involved rotation a partially-assembled MW door so additional components could be installed prior to final assembly.  As with any company, they ask me to provide several options with accompanying cost projections for each.  There were three viable possibilities with varying complexity that satisfied their demands for production times and degrees of employee involvement.  After three weeks of design work and drafting, I presented each option to the purchasing manager of Company “A”.  I was assured the appropriate individuals would review my work and the options and make a decision quickly so I could order parts and start fabrication of the robotic superstructure.  A week went by, then two weeks, then a month, then six weeks until finally I get a phone call.  This is just about how it went.

PURCHASING AGENT:  Hey, can you come down to take a look at another project and possible provide a quote?

CIELO TECH:  How about the quote I furnished five weeks ago?  Are you going ahead with that one?

PURCHASING AGENT: We are still deciding on which option we want to use.  This one is still in the works but we do feel you can do the work and we are very satisfied with your second option.

CIELO TECH:  OK, good. I will be down tomorrow afternoon.  (I don’t remember the time but that’s of no real consequence at this point.)

I made the visit the next day.  We again, went to their assembly line to get a better picture of the job they wished me to look at and eventually quote.   It was a fairly simple hold-down fixture requiring installation of rivets attaching four mating brackets.  Not that complex but a good project and if you can automate the process you are better off for it.  I was given all of the parts necessary to design my fixture but while walking back to his office, he was paged to answer an emergency phone call.  One that could not wait.  During those days, there were no cell phones so he answered the call from a desk phone located at the head of an adjacent assembly line.  The phone call lasted for several minutes and during that period of time I was approached by an employee asking if I could come take a look at the system I had just installed.  JUST INSTALLED!  It apparently needed a slight adjustment—tweaking.  A great deal of confusion swelled up and as I got closer to the adjacent assembly line I realize that MY robotic system was running and running wide open.  MY SYSTEM.  The purchasing agent caught up with us.

PURCHASING AGENT:  You are not supposed to be here.

CIELO TECH:  I can understand why.  This is my system.  Who built it and why was my design used?

The employee was truly baffled and embarrassed and slowly moved back to his work cell after receiving looks that could kill from the purchasing agent.  My questions were not answered but one comment was given.

PURCHASING AGENT:  You can sue us if you wish but you won’t win.  We can keep this thing in court long enough to bankrupt you.  You know that.

I did know that. He was correct.  To prosecute the theft would have tied me up for years and taken a tremendous amount of time and creative capital.  I simply did not have the time to recoup my investment.   I left, never to return.  About a year later, Company “A” moved their production to China.   I had provided too much detailed information and my designs were very easy to fabricate. Lesson learned.  I’m sure he was a hero to his management and boasted on how much money he saved the company.  The fact that his actions were very much immoral had no real concern to him and his management cared not one whit.

QUESTION:  Just how big is intellectual property theft and counterfeiting in our country today?  As Senator Bernie Sanders would say:  “It’s YHUGGGGGGE”.  Let’s take a look.

THE THREAT:

According to ABC News, counterfeiting has become a one-trillion-dollar industry globally, and has deprived governments of much needed tax revenue. The United States alone loses 250 billion dollars a year to various types of intellectual property theft, resulting in the loss of 750,000 jobs nationally. In the music industry, the people who suffer the most from pirating are neither the musicians nor the companies. Instead, low- or mid-level employees, like song writers and sound designers, are left without a job because of sales that are lost to illegal downloads.  According to the Crime Prevention Council:

“Not only is the United States the wealthiest country on Earth, but it is also the world’s greatest producer of intellectual property. American artists, entrepreneurs, inventors, and researchers have created a nation with a rich cultural fabric. Every day, Americans can avail themselves of consumer goods, entertainment, business systems, health care and safety systems and products, and a national defense structure that are the envy of the world. It is frequently said that the American imagination knows no bounds, and that is probably true. In fact, the U.S. Patent Office recently issued its eight millionth patent (Cyber Attacks and Intellectual Property Theft, Defense Tech, August 22, 2011). The U.S. Copyright Office has issued more than 33.6 million copyrights to date (U.S. Copyright Office).  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Intellectual Property Center has calculated the worth of intellectual property in the United States as being between $5 trillion and $5.5 trillion (Counterfeiting and Piracy: How Pervasive Is It?, Electrical Contractor magazine, 2008, retrieved November 12, 2011).

More than 250,000 more people could be employed in the U.S. automotive industry if it weren’t for the trade in counterfeit parts (Counterfeit Goods and Their Potential Financing of International Terrorism). According to the Council of State Governments (Intellectual Property Theft: An Economic Antagonist, September 7, 2011), the U.S. economy loses $58 billion each year to copyright infringement alone—crimes that affect creative works. That includes $16 billion in the loss of revenue to copyright owners and $3 billion in lost tax revenue. Furthermore, the problem is transnational: The U.S. Department of Commerce puts the value of fake products—such as CDs, DVDs, software, electronic equipment, pharmaceuticals, and auto products—at five to seven percent of world trade.

This one really scares me. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates 15 percent of the pharmaceuticals that enter the United States each year are fakes, with that number having increased 90 percent since 2005 (Counterfeit Drugs: Real Money, Real Risk, Wellescent.com). Some are manufactured domestically, but more than 75 percent of these drugs come from India (Counterfeit Drugs: Real Money, Real Risk, Wellescent.com). Frequently, online pharmacies that distribute fake drugs purport to be located in Canada, but a recent study conducted at the University of Texas found that of 11,000 online sites that claimed to located there, only 214 were actually Canadian (Counterfeit Drugs: Real Money, Real RiskWellescent.com). According to an article published on the Secure Pharma Chain Blog on March 22, 2008 (Counterfeit Pharmaceutical StatisticsSecure Pharma Chain Blog), 60 percent of all counterfeit drugs have no active ingredients, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that “even a small percentage of counterfeit drugs in the drug supply can pose significant risks to thousands of Americans” (FDA: Drugs: FDA Initiative To Combat Counterfeit Drugs, retrieved November 11, 2011).  Moreover, counterfeit drugs are commonly made and distributed by criminal gangs (Bad Medicine in the MarketAEI Outlook Series, Institute for Policy Research, American Enterprise Institute, retrieved November 11, 2011).

OFFENDERS:

Who are the biggest offenders?  Offenders in foreign countries are the principal source of the threat to United States IP. Production of infringing goods is conducted primarily outside the United States and these items may cross numerous borders prior to delivery to consumers in the United States. The one notable exception is the production of pirated works in the United States for domestic production. The magnitude and type of threat to United States interests varies from country to country. Offenders in China pose the greatest threat to United States interests in terms of the variety of products infringed, the types of threats posed (economic, health and safety, and national security), and the volume of infringing goods produced there. The majority of infringing goods seized by CBP and ICE originated in China. Offenders in China are also the primary foreign threat for theft of trade secrets from United States rights holders. China‘s push for domestic innovation in science and technology appears to be fueling greater appropriation of other country‘s IP. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (China Commission) has cautioned that China‘s approach to faster development of sophisticated technology has included the ―aggressive use of industrial espionage   As the globalization and growth of multinational corporations and organizations blurs the distinction between government and commerce, it is difficult to distinguish between foreign-based corporate spying and state-sponsored espionage. Although most observers consider China‘s laws generally adequate for protection of IPR, they believe China‘s enforcement efforts are inadequate. Despite some evidence of improvement in this regard, the threat continues unabated. Offenders in India are notable primarily because of their increasing role in producing counterfeit pharmaceuticals sent to consumers in the United States. Offenders in the tri-border area of South America are a noteworthy threat because of the possible use of content piracy profits to fund terrorist groups, notably Hizballah. The most significant threat to United States interests from offenders in Russia is extensive content piracy, but this is principally an economic threat as the pirated content is consumed domestically in Russia. Distribution and sales of infringing goods are the principal violations in the United States. Except for pirated content, there is limited domestic production of infringing goods. Physical pirated content is commonly produced in the United States because it is more cost effective to create this content domestically than import it from overseas. Printing of sports apparel and paraphernalia for last minute sports events, such as the World Series or Super Bowl, also is common in the United States because there is not enough time to import these goods from other countries.

CONCLUSIONS:

What can be done to halt theft?  Rigorous prosecution of “local” property theft can be accomplished if the theft results from companies originating in the United States.  That must be done.  Off-shore theft from companies around the globe and counterfeiting is much more difficult but could be handled if we were so inclined to do so.  It’s purely political.

As always, I welcome your comments.

IDENTIFY THEFT AND FRAUD

August 1, 2015


I recently completed writing a training module for PDHonline.org.  PDH publishes documents allowing engineers and architects to satisfy their annual requirements for continuing education units (CEUs).  There are thirty-six (36) states requiring CEUs for continued listing as a professional engineer or professional architect.  My newest module is “BIOMETRICS”.   Biometric technology is one possible method for eliminating or lessening theft and fraud.  I was absolutely amazed at the level of fraud each year in our country.

When we consider the number of identity theft and fraud cases each year, we see the following picture.  Add to the numbers below the instances of money laundering and you get a difficult situation hard to believe.  Let’s take a look.

  • Approximately  fifteen (15)  million United States residents have their identities used fraudulently each year, with financial losses totaling upwards of fifty billion ($50 B).  I have personally been the victim three times relative to identity theft.  Not stolen cards, but someone “lifting” my numbers, recreating the card and charging at will.
  • On a case-by-case basis, that means approximately seven percent (7%) of all adults have their identities misused with each instance resulting in approximately $3,500 in losses.
  • Close to one hundred (100) million additional Americans have their personal identifying information placed at risk of identity theft each year when records maintained in government and corporate databases are lost or stolen.  We have just seen this recently with Federal employees.
  • On average, banks charge nineteen percent (19%) for a returned check and fiver dollars ($5.00) to the depositor. Assuming a combined revenue stream to banks of twenty-four dollars ($24.00) for returning a check, with 300 million returned checks, the annual revenue from returned checks is seven billion dollars ($7billion).  Some banks, generally the larger nation-wide banks, charge upwards to $50.00 for a returned check.
  • Ernst & Young reports that more than five hundred (500) million checks are forged annually.   The American Banker, an industry magazine, predicts that there will be a twenty-five percent (25%) increase in check fraud in the 2016 year.
  • Money laundering has increased over the last ten years. As a result, global efforts to combat this crime have increased. While it is extremely difficult to estimate the amount of worldwide money laundering, one model estimated that in 1998 it was near $2.85 trillion.
  • According to Meridian Research, estimated fraud loss for the credit card industry amounts to $1.5 billion annually, of which $230 million is estimated to result from online transactions. MasterCard reported a 33.7% increase in worldwide fraud from 1998 to 1999. During the first quarter of 2000, fraud losses increased 35.3% over the last quarter in 1999. VISA reports similar trends. It is estimated that fraud losses for online transactions may exceed $500 million in 2000. Fraudulent credit card activities include the use of counterfeit, stolen, and never received cards, as well as account takeover, mail order and Internet card-not present transactions.
  • The FBI estimates losses from check fraud total $18.7 billion annually in our country alone.
  • Health care fraud costs the United States tens of billions of dollars a year. It’s a rising threat, with national health care expenditures estimated to exceed $3 trillion in 2014 and spending continuing to outpace inflation. Recent cases also show that medical professionals continue, and may be more willing, to risk patient harm in furtherance of their schemes.  Medicare has no official estimate of the amount of money lost to fraud each year, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation refers to estimates of three to ten percent of all health care billings. In 2011, Medicare expenditures totaled approximately $565 billion. If the FBI percentages are applied to this amount, the cost of Medicare fraud for the 2011 fiscal year was anywhere from $17-57 billion.
  • According to an FBI report on insurance fraud, published on its web site under “The Economic Crimes Unit” section, total insurance industry fraud is $27.6 billion annually. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud breaks the total down across the insurance industry as follows:
    • Auto $12.3 billion ·
    • Homeowners $1.8 billion ·
    •  Business/Commercial $12 billion ·
    • Life/Disability $1.5 billion

Economic crimes in this area include those committed both internally and externally. Internal fraud can manifest itself in bribery of company officials, misrepresentation of company information for personal gain, and the like.

  • In his testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary on March 21, 2000, Chairman Arthur Levitt stated that Internet securities fraud is on the rise. He stated that there will be over 5.5 million online brokerage accounts by year end. The SEC has seen a rapid rise in Internet fraud in this area, with most of it occurring between 1998 and 1999. One recent pyramid scheme raised more than $150 million from over 155,000 investors before it was shut down. Securities fraud takes the form of stock manipulation, fraudulent offerings, and illegal touts conducted through newspapers, meetings, and cold calling, among others. These same scams have been conducted electronically, but are now joined by some newer, more sophisticated fraudulent activity. These include momentum-trading web sites, scalping recommendations, message boards posted by imposters, web sites for day trading recommendations, and misdirected messages. Investors are suffering large losses due to these cyber crimes.
  • The U.S. Secret Service estimates that telecommunication fraud losses exceed $1 billion annually.  Other estimates range from three ($3) billion to twelve ($12) billion.  Subscription or identity fraud involves using false or stolen IDs or credit cards to gain free service and anonymity. It has tripled since 1997, says Rick Kemper, Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association’s (CTIA) director of wireless technology and security, a trend he attributes to criminals favoring subscription fraud over cloning, plus increased industry competition to reach a broader and riskier market. The International Data Corporation (IDC: Framingham, MA) stated that, “Fraud remains endemic to the wireless industry, with estimated loses expected to reach a staggering $677 million by 2002…”   One of the key reasons is the dramatic increase of subscription fraud which IDC estimates will reach $473 million by 2002.17 Telemarketing fraud resulted in losses to victims of over $40 billion in 1998.   In 1996, the FBI estimated that there were over 14,000 telemarketing firms that were involved in fraudulent acts, the majority of which victimized the elderly.
  • Intellectual property theft – in the form of trademark infringement, cyber squatters, typo squatters, trade-secret theft, and copyright infringement – has increased as Internet use and misuse has risen. It occurs across the seven industries detailed here, as well as most other businesses. “According to the American Society for Industrial Security, American businesses have been losing $250 billion a year from intellectual property theft since the mid-1990’s.

These alarming statistics demonstrate identity theft and fraud may be the most frequent, costly and pervasive crime in the United States and on a global basis.  There is also a growing belief that biometrics may be able to lessen to a very great degree identity theft.   Let’s take a look at the “BIOMETRIC SUITE”:

Biometric Suite

The methods used, relative to allowing access to information and location, must be determined by careful consideration of 1.) Cost, 2.) Interface with existing computer equipment and computer code, 3.) Level of social intrusion tolerated, 4.) Ease in maintenance of equipment and 5.) Level of security required by the facility.  You would expect entry into a nuclear facility to be more difficult that entry into an NFL locker room. You get the point.  All of these factors must be considered with converting from existing systems to biometric technology.

I do NOT think anyone would disagree that something MUST be done to lessen identity theft and fraudulent activity.  The FED won’t really do this.  They are much too busy getting reelected, establishing their “brand”, satisfying their “base and securing their “legacy”.  Change must occur through the private sector.

As always, I welcome your comments.

BIOMETRICS

July 30, 2015


INTRODUCTION:

Biometrics may be a fairly new term to some individuals so it is entirely appropriate at this time to define the technology.  This will lay the groundwork for the discussion to follow.  According to the International Biometric Society:

“Biometrics is used to refer to the emerging field of technology devoted to identification of individuals using biological traits, such as those based on retinal or iris scanning, fingerprints, or face recognition.”

The terms “Biometrics” and “Biometry” have been used since early in the 20th century to refer to the field of development of statistical and mathematical methods applicable to data analysis problems in the biological sciences.

From the Free Dictionary we see the following definition:

  • The statistical study of biological phenomena.
  • The measurement of physical characteristics, such as fingerprints, DNA, or retinal patterns for use in verifying the identity of individuals.
  • Biometrics refers to metrics related to human characteristics. Biometrics authentication (or realistic authentication) is used in computer science as a form of identification and access control. It is also used to identify individuals in groups that are under surveillance.

Biometric identifiers are the distinctive, measurable characteristics used to label and describe individuals. Biometric identifiers are often categorized as physiological versus behavioral characteristics. Physiological characteristics are related to the shape of the body.  Examples include, but are not limited to fingerprint, palm veins and odor/scent.  Behavioral characteristics are related to the pattern of behavior of a person, including but not limited to typing rhythm, gait, and voice.  Some researchers have coined the term behaviometrics to describe the latter class of biometrics.

More traditional means of access control include token-based identification systems, such as a driver’s license or passport, and knowledge-based identification systems, such as a password or personal identification number.  Since biometric identifiers are unique to individuals, they are more reliable in verifying identity than token and knowledge-based methods; however, the collection of biometric identifiers raises privacy concerns about the ultimate use of this information.

The oldest biometric identifier is facial recognition. The dimensions, proportions and physical attributes of a person’s face are unique and occur very early in infants.   A child will (obviously) recognize a parent, a brother or sister.  It is only since the advent of computers and accompanying software that the ability to quantify facial features has become possible.

The FBI has long been a leader in biometrics and has used various forms of biometric identification since the very earliest day.  This Federal institution assumes responsibility for managing the national fingerprint collection in 1924.  As you know, fingerprints vary from person to person (even identical twins have different prints) and don’t change over time. As a result, they are an effective way of identifying fugitives and helping to prove both guilt and innocence.

We will discuss fingerprints, as well as other modes of identification, later on in this course.

BIOMETRIC APPLICATIONS:

In the last several years, improvements in the technology have greatly increased application.  It is expected that in the near future, we will use biometry many times in our daily activities such as getting in the car, opening the door of our house, accessing our bank account, shopping by internet, accessing our PDA, mobile phone, laptops, etc. Depending on where biometric systems are deployed, the applications can be categorized in the following five main groups:  1.) Forensic, 2.) Government, 3.) Commercial, 4.) Health-care, and 5.) Traveling and immigration. However, some applications are common to these groups such as physical access, PC/network access, time and attendance, etc.

Forensic:

The use of biometric technology in law enforcement and forensic analysis applied to law enforcement, has been known and used for quite some time.  That technology is used mainly for identification of criminals. In particular, the AFIS (automatic fingerprint identification system) has been used for this purpose.  Recently, facial-scan technology or mug shots are being used for the identification of suspects. Another possible application is the verification of individuals considered for arrest as suspects in home and auto break-ins.  The typical applications are:

  • Identification of criminals- Collecting evidence, such as fingerprints, at the scene of a crime makes it possible to compare information relative to an existing database.  You often hear in the movies of investigating officers “dusting for fingerprints”. This has been and is common practice.
  • Surveillance –-Using cameras, one can monitor very busy areas such as stadiums, airports, meeting rooms, etc. to determine the presence of criminal suspects or when suspected criminal activity could be a possibility.   Based on the face recognition biometric, using images (e.g., mug shots), database files of wanted persons or criminals may be integrated to verify their presence. Since the events of September 11, 2001, the interest in biometric surveillance has increased dramatically, especially for air travel. There are many cameras monitoring crowds at airports for detecting wanted terrorists.
  • Corrections –This refers to the treatment of offenders (criminals) through a system of penal incarceration, rehabilitation, probation, and parole, or the administrative system by which these are effectuated. In this cases a biometric system can avoid the possibility of accidentally releasing the wrong prisoner, or to ensure that people leaving the facilities are really visitors and not inmates.
  • Probation and home arrest – Biometrics can also be used for post-release programs (conditional release) to ensure the fulfillment of the probation, parole and home detention terms.

Government:

There are many application of biometric technology used and operating in the government sector. An AFIS or Automatic Fingerprint Identification System is the primary means for locating duplicate entities enrolled in benefits systems, electronic voting for local or national elections, issuance of driver’s license emission, etc. The typical application is:

  • National Identification Cards – The idea is to include digital biometric information in the national identification card. This is the most ambitious biometric program, since the identification must be performed in a large-scale database, containing hundreds of millions of samples, corresponding to the whole population of one country. These cards can be used for multiple purposes such as controlling the collection of benefits, avoiding duplicates of voter registration and drivers license usage.    These applications are primarily based on finger-scan and AFIS technology; however it is possible that facial-scan and iris-scan technology could be used in the future.
  • Voter ID and Elections – While the biometric national identification (ID) card is still an ongoing project in the United States, many countries already use this mode of biometry to control  voting and voter registration.  These ID cards are used for national and/or regional elections. During the registration of voters, biometric data is captured and embedded in the card with matching data in a stored database for the later use. The purpose is to prevent duplicate registration and voting.
  • Driver’s licenses – In many countries a valid driver license is used as an identification document; therefore it is important to prevent duplication and use under a different name. Biometrics can eliminate this problem.  However, it is important that the data is shared between states, because in the United States, the license is controlled at the state level as opposed to the federal level.
  • Benefits Distribution (social service) – The use of biometry in benefits distribution prevents fraud and abuse within government benefits programs.  This can ensure that legitimate recipients have quick and convenient access to benefits such as unemployment, health care and social security.
  • Employee authentication – The government use of biometric data for PC, network, and data access is critical for securing buildings and thereby protection of confidential information.
  • Military programs – The military has long been interested in biometric technology and many of the advancements have come from R&D efforts financed by the government.  With this being the case, the technology has enjoyed extensive support from the national security community.

Commercial:

Banking and financial services represent enormous growth areas for biometric technology.   Many developments are currently in place with pilot projects initiated frequently. Several applications within the banking sector are:

  • Account access –Access to a specific personal or commercial account using Biometrics allows the financial institution to keep definitive records of account access by employees and customers. Using biometry, customers can access accounts and employees can log from their workstations or in person.
  • ATMs –Biometrics allowing ATM access, provides for more secure banking transactions. This access would probably be by virtue of fingerprint, retina or iris scans.
  • Expanded Service Kiosks –A more receptive market for biometrics may be special purpose kiosks, using biometric verification to allow a greater variety of financial transaction than are currently available through standard ATMs.
  • Online banking –Internet-based account access is already widely used in many places.  The inclusion of biometric technology will bring about much greater security for these transactions from home.  Currently, there are many pilot programs using biometrics in home banking.
  • Telephone transaction – Voice-scan biometric can be used to secure telephone-based banking transactions. In this application, when the consumer calls to execute a transaction, a biometric system will authenticate the customer’s identity based on his or her voice. There will be no need for any additional device.
  • PC/Network access –The use of biometric login to local PCs or remotely through networks increases the security of the overall system.  This definitely insures greater protection  of valuable information.
  • Physical access –Biometric technology is widely used for controlling the access to buildings or restricted areas.  This is very common right now.
  • E-commerce – Biometric e-commerce is the use of any biometric mode to verify the identity of individuals wishing to gain remote access for transaction involving goods or services.
  • Time and attendance monitoring –Biometrics can be used for controlling the presence of individuals in a given area. For example, for controlling time sheets of employees or the presence of students in a classroom.  Hand and palm readers are very prevalent in manufacturing locations for use in clocking in and clocking out.

Health Care:

Applications for this sector include identification or verification of individuals interacting with a health-care entity or acting in the capacity of health-care employees or other professionals. The main purpose being prevention of fraud, protecting patient information, and the control of pharmaceutical products. Typical application are:

  • PC/Network Access –To control the activity of employees needing to gain access to hospital networks.  Used primarily to protect patient information from unauthorized personnel.
  • Access of personal information – Patient information could possibly be stored on smart cards or secure networks allowing access for patients relative to their personal information.
  • Patient identification -In cases of emergency and when a patient does not have identification documentation, biometric identification may be a good alternative.   The DoD is experimenting with DNA samples carried by the uniformed soldier allowing doctors in emergency situations to access the patient’s records.

Travel and Immigration

The application in this sector includes the use of biometrics technology to identify or verify the identity of individuals interacting with systems during the course of travel.  This, of course, includes immigration entity or acting in the capacity of an immigration employee. Typical applications are:

  • Air travel –Many airports are already using a biometric system in to reduce inspection processing times for authorized travelers.
  • Border crossing –The use of biometrics to control the travelers crossing the national or state border is increasing, especially in regions with high volume of travelers or illegal immigrants.
  • Employee access –Several airports use biometrics to control the physical access of employees to secure areas.
  • Passports –Some countries already issues passports with biometric information on a barcode or smart chips. The use of biometrics prevents use of multiple passports for the same person and facilitates the identification at the airports and border controls.

As you can see, biometric technology may be one possibility for limiting or eliminating fraud and identity theft.  The technology is still developing and will provide many of the answers needed in years to come.

As always, I welcome your comments.

 

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